Over Labor day weekend 2014, our hiking group from Boulder, CO did an amazing backpacking trip to Cirque of the towers in the Wind river range, WY. Here is a short glimpse of our adventure:
Friday afternoon we started the 7.x hour drive from Boulder to the trail head hoping to reach there by before midnight. But we had a car oil leak somewhere around Sinclair,WY and ultimately decided to stop for the night at Rock Springs, WY hoping to get it fixed early next morning. After much talk about where to lay that night, we ultimately succumbed to the hippy spirit imbibed from Boulder,CO i guess and slept out in the open under the stars on a small hillock by the I80. Next morning luckily the car got fixed early and we were on our way once again much relieved. enroute topics ranged from backpacking adventures, wyoming, investing, dumpster diving , Boulder. etc. and in no time we were at the Big Sandy trail head and started hiking by around 12:30pm. 2 of our party were supposed to meet us at the trailhead but due to our delay we missed them and hoped they hiked in and would catch them at the Cirque.
The trail began through pine and aspen forests gently gaining winding up a gently flowing river. It opened up on a couple of meadows that gave us panoramas of the stream, forests and the mountains. Twas a very grey day. With a couple of stops for pictures of huge mushrooms and water breaks, we were at the Big Sandy Lake at 6mi. and the weather had started to turn looking very ominous.
While debating about whether to continue up to the pass or wait for the weather to clear, we talked about going by being stuck by lightning, out in the wilderness and death and what lies beyond
Being out in the wilderness with random people tends to bring up very interesting subjects to talk about…
Ultimately deciding to get closer to the pass and then reconsider the weather and make a decision, we continued past Big sandy lake up to the intersection with the Temple peak trail and the Jackass pass trail. Here we took shelter between a bunch of trees as it was too windy and there was a heavy onslaught of rain-ice. Here we ate and saw a huge group with around 5 or 6 lamas pass by. They were planning to be in the wilderness for a week, and the Lamas were carrying their climbing gear. Another first for me… had not seen lamas ever before. After about 30-40 minutes the rain receded and there was a patch of blue sky over the direction of the trail we were supposed to be ascending.
Encouraged, we started the climb up towards Jackass pass. The trail ascended quickly and we got a panoramic top view of big sand lake. Then the trail continued steadily past a valley and after a stream crossing pictured below, it started ascending again through a very rocky terrain.
Up up and away we went on a rocky trail guided by cranes when the trail was not clear for a while, then the trail descended slightly to a beautify lake with the panorama of mountains we had just left behind in the background. The weather too had stared to clear with the sunny blue skies and puffy white clouds being a welcome sight as compared to the stormy weather before. Past the lake the trail again climbed steadily and now the trail was “opening up” giving us views of rocky slopes on one side and a forested valley on the other. We were getting closer! Soon we got the first peek of the prize… the Cirque of the Towers (picture below)
It turned out that that view – although very gorgeous was not the pass. Soon the trail descended again down and we were at an intersection with the Arrowhead lake on one side (below) and a steep 800′ ascent to the actual Jackass Pass. We climbed steadily and reached the top. It was intensely windy. And it was against the direction of motion… so we had to exert ourselves even more. Soon past the pass the trail once again and finally descended to the Lonesome lake – our destination for the night.
We descended quickly- the grey clouds were building up again over the Cirque. Filled up water at the lake and went to the nearby woods scouting for a camping spot. Soon it started to drizzle and we setup camp on a good spot before the rain got stronger. The rain receded again and we ate and talked by a campfire. By around 1030 we were getting sleepy and the sky was getting lit by some distant lightening far away. We called it a night and crept into our tents and into our warm sleeping bags.
No sooner than i was about to fall asleep the sky was alit with brilliant flashes of lightning and strong thunder. Rain was on again. As the thundering and lightning continues into the night the temperatures fall and soon rain turned to hail and ice. But tiredness took over and the thunder wasnt strong enough to keep me from falling asleep.
We awoke next day to a close to freezing morning with low fog and clouds hanging over the cirque. The condensation had frozen through the night making our campsite even colder. Slowly in the cold we ate, cleaned up and got ready. Our plan for the day was to explore the area around Texas pass and lakes .. but due to weather it wasnt a good idea and we decided to go down the open valley and explore some of the unnamed lakes.
We started off the gentle trail going past thick forests, some streams and started getting warmed up. The sun too peaked out of the clouds for a short while and with our quickening pace it was time to shed some warmer layers. After a while we were in a vast open meadow with gorgeous views of peaks all around us. The Cirque behind us was still covered with the low hanging clouds that seemed so heavy that they had just settled comfortably over the Cirque. But on either side and beyond we could see the beautiful dusting of fine sugar on the mountains. The first coating of snow on tall granite blackish peaks looked amazing. While still in the meadow, the weather turned again and it started raining-snowing. The wind too picked up. We pondered that the area was so aptly named.
We continued on the mellow trail though the forests, over a couple stream crossings, stopping for lunch in a forested area full for wild mushrooms of all different sizes and colors. After a while we crossed a stream hoping to get to a lake on the other side. But no sooner after crossing we came across another huge stream that was flowing in the opposite direction to the one we had just crossed. Confused, we huddled up and debated what was going on and being engineers came up with plausible theories. Ultimately we crossed the second stream as well and after some thick tress we came to the shore of the beautiful lake (pictured below) with glistening blue water, tall pine trees on the bank and 12000′ granite towers with a fine dusting of snow in the background. The clouds were moving here making the sunlight come and go. When the sun was out the water turned into an incredible shade of blue. After a good photo op and jumping around the rocks to get better views, we turned around and were soon back on the trail heading back.
The weather going back was much better. Still cloudy but not as much and no rain. The sun was out too over part of the valley and blue skies that we had eagerly awaited over some of the peaks.The weather made much of a difference and were able to quickly re-trace our steps back to our campsite near Lonesome lake. After moving our tents to a further location following a note from the ranger that we were less than 0.25mi from the lake, Two folks were tired and retired and decided to build up a campfire – which was going be challenging as it had been raining all day and everything was very dank. The three of us continued past the lake up the trail to a waterfall we had seen on our way in.
On our way we strolled though open meadows with some wild flowers, many wild mushrooms, pine trees and some streams. In an opening we saw a white tailed deer and two moose. Yay! Soon winding up the trail we were right at the base of the Cirque, with the towers right up in front. The weather too had cleared and we got amazing views of the towers with wispy clouds flying past slowly. The view from the waterfall was amazing.
We continued past the meadows over the waterfall hoping to get to the greenish lake right at the base of the towers. On our way there we saw a couple of tents and wondered how it would have been camping up there with thick clouds and furious thunder and lightning on the previous night. Gazing awestruck at the rocky peaks towering over us, and after a short scramble over some gigantic boulders we reached the lake but turned around quickly as it was too windy and was starting to drizzle again.
Retracing our steps to the campsite and the warm and welcoming campfire, we finally relaxed, changed from our drenched socks and shoes and settled down by the fire for food drink and talk. We made a drying rack close to the fire and hung out our socks and shoes. Soon our clothes, socks and shoes were steaming and were pretty dry and warm. We stoked the fire and chatted for a long while and retired to bed at about 10:30pm after having a tentative timeline for the next days plan to head out
Next morning was warm and nice with clear blue skies and no sign of rain nor storm. It was a totally different scene now. Perfect for our journey over the pass. We ate, refilled water at the lake, took some pics and were off , upwards and onwards on the climb back over the pass.
This time we took a slightly different trail form the intersection at Arrowhead lake… that turned out to be shorter and avoided the 2 going up and downs over the pass… although it was very rocky in some sections and involved scrambling. Past the pass and arrowhead lake, we rejoined the old trail that we had taken going up. It was a pretty easy hike out … all downhill and soon we were past the lake and were having lunch on the Big sandy lake overlook from the top.
The weather was incredible and the blue skies with fluffy white clouds gave us some good pics with nice contrast. Soon we were past big sandy lake on the flat and final 5 miles out to the trailhead. It dint take us long to do the final miles but they sure felt long.. Finally we made it back to our cars, stretched out for a bit and were on our drive back. The talk now ranged form god and atheism, driving , driving habits, more past adventures and experiences and finally we found ourselves back in Boulder, tired but happy !